Mary Cantway MT101017_web
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Swimming, exercise help Mary Cantway, 103, stay fit

There’s no stopping Mary Cantway. She’s 103 and keeps a regular schedule at the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District’s Racquet & Fitness Club.

There’s no stopping Mary Cantway. She’s 103 and keeps a regular schedule at the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District’s Racquet & Fitness Club.

  Mary Cantway of Homewood
  works the machines at the
  H-F Racquet & Fitness Club
  where she’s been a member
  for 38 years.
(Photo by
  Marilyn Thomas/H-F

She drives herself to the club on Mondays and Wednesdays for water aerobics classes. That’s followed up with 30 to 45 minutes on the machines. Cantway’s back at the club either Friday or Saturday for more workouts.

Others around her may be in old T-shirts and shorts, but Mary is stylish. Her gym outfits include matching earrings and a bracelet watch. Her hair is coiffed. 

While she admits there was a time she did all the machines, she’s slowed down a bit. She doesn’t use the treadmill as much.

“Being at a place like this, they have about everything here that you would want do to, and you can do it on your own time,” Cantway said.

“My doctor said I don’t need to do leg press at 110 pounds, so now I’m down to 65. I do the leg machines, arm machines and I try to lift some of the free weights. I was at 7 and a half pounds, but the doctor said I didn’t need to do that, so I’m at 5,” she explained.

When Cantway celebrated her 103rd birthday Sept. 30, she was delighted to receive 50 birthday cards. “I guess I have to live because I’m so fortunate I have so many friends.” At her age, she says her friends “are a lot younger. I think that’s a way of keeping younger.”

Cantway has been a regular at the racquet club for 38 years. Before the club opened, she would swim at Homewood-Flossmoor High School once a week when it had open swim hours. The pool at the racquet club has become a special place for her.

She competed in the Senior Olympics one year, “but I won all the gold medals (in swimming).” Competitors are classified by age, and Cantway didn’t compete the next year – there were no competitors in her age group.

Her health is good. She’s had cataract surgery, and only uses glasses for computer work. Unlike many seniors, she hasn’t had any joint replacement surgery. Her one concern is dehydration. She’s trying different drinks to help replenish her system.

“The doctor said you have to keep active. It takes me a while in the morning. I know sometimes I’m 103,” but by the time she’s up and dressed it’s time to keep to her schedule.
Cantway has lived on Harwood Avenue in Homewood for 60 years. She and her late husband, Elmo, raised a son, Donald Cantway, a retired physician, who resides in Colorado, and a daughter, Linda Cantway-Cook, who moved in with her five years ago.

Longtime Homewood residents may remember Cantway as a 10-year staff member at the former Community Pharmacy at the northeast corner of Ridge and Dixie. Her next position was in the admitting department at South Suburban Hospital. She retired in 1990 at age 75 after 15 years on staff.

She’s traveled the world. She recalls her trip to China as the most interesting adventure. It was China “before Tiananmen Square. We had a guard with us all the time,” she said. “I’m glad I did travel, but now I’m happy to stay home.”

On the days when she’s not at the racquet club, she’s meeting friends for lunch or doing her errands. She’s a member at Homewood Presbyterian Church. She has a computer although she says she’s not very good with it and her daughter often has to repeat instructions on its use. As an avid reader, she gets books from the Homewood library or reads them on her tablet. 

Cantway doesn’t have any great secrets to a long life. Her older sister lived to be 102, and her other siblings lived into their 80s and 90s. She said most people didn’t know her age until her son gave her a 90th birthday party.

As for advice: “I eat healthy. I like fruits and vegetables. I’m not a big beef eater. I told them I quit drinking at 101 so I could drive,“ she says, with a wry smile.

This story first appeared in the Dec. 1 print edition of the Chronicle.

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